Film Review: The Myth of the American Sleepover

“Sleepover” may very well describe audience reaction to this soporific, unoriginal teen study.

In The Myth of the American Sleepover, which is set in Detroit (although it really could take place anywhere), pajama parties comprise a major part of teenagers’ social life. Rookie director/writer David Robert Mitchell focuses on a group of adolescents who, in time-honored youth-movie fashion, spend one particularly long night hooking up, and not.
One can easily apprehend that Mitchell is positively aching to portray these kids with sensitivity and empathy, but, unfortunately, their nocturnal gambols merely encourage one big yawn. The characters lack any truly distinctive individuality to interest you, and their scattershot, mumbled conversations don’t give one much hope for the future of at least this particular generation in focus.

Mitchell’s writing is often too self-conscious, as when he has one character nostalgically recalling bygone childhood pursuits which have been replaced by high-school concerns (“I miss tag”). The lackadaisical pacing makes the film’s 93 minutes feel twice that length, and certain cinematic “homages,” like a Godardian spontaneous run through deserted school hallways by a trio of teens, or one girl suddenly breaking into Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face dance routine at a party, merely feel forced and unoriginal.

At a press screening, I asked Mitchell why he chose not to have any modern technology, like cell-phones or the Internet, in his movie, and he replied that he didn’t want to have anything which would “date” it in years to come. Well, okay, but the fact remains that without such appurtenances (which simply obsess modern teens), his film feels just that: dated, not to mention somewhat bewildering. When a bunch of boys have a stag party, they watch some soft-core porn video and masturbate to 1960ish-looking girlie magazines. One can see how Mitchell wanted to go for timelessness (and maybe some kind of quality of eternally lost innocence), but it would take a filmmaker with a far greater mastery of mise-en-scène to bring it off with the proper effect. And, I wondered, won’t the facial piercings on one female character’s face look antediluvian over time?

The performances of the largely first-time actors pretty much are what they are: The girls are wry and somewhat more deviously knowing than the boys, while the boys go through age-old dweebish uncertainty and sexual fumbling. If there’s a standout performance in this largely anonymous bunch, it’s that of Marlon Morton, who is fitfully amusing as that stock character who talks a big game but really possesses none. Paging Anthony Michael Hall—and while we’re at it, the ghost of John Hughes—wherever you are!